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Biochemistry and Molecular Biotechnology Blog

Yumeng Liu

Tuesday, July 26, 2022
By:  Xingchen Liu

This month, Xiingchen Liu sat down with Yumeng Liu., postdoctoral associate in the Kelch Lab. Read Yumeng's story below.

Neha Samant

Diversity Profile of the Month!

Meet Yumeng Liu. She came to the US to pursue her PhD degree after finishing her Master’s degree in China. She got her PhD at Marquette University in Dr. Martin St. Maurice’s lab and finished a two-year postdoc in Dr. Shu-ou Shan’s lab at California Institute of Technology (CalTech). Currently, she is a postdoctoral associate in Dr. Brian Kelch’s lab.

What set you on a trajectory of becoming a scientist?

I did not realize that I wanted to be a scientist until I started my PhD education. The research for my doctoral dissertation focused on structural biology and enzymology. I was fascinated by how detailed we can be in understanding a macromolecule at the atomic level. In vitro scientists in the Physics and Chemistry fields are capable of characterizing a reaction using derived equations so as to precisely predict the outcome. However, in the field of Biology, we are far from this level of understanding due to the complexities of a biological system. The way I look at biology was strengthened during my first postdoc, when I was in Dr. Shu-ou Shan’s lab at CalTech. I believe that in Biology, you can only fully understand the system when you are able to reconstitute it in vitro. My goal now is to commit my career in science to Structural Biology and Enzymology so that I can characterize macromolecular machineries at a highly quantitative level and predictive footing.

Are there any setbacks you faced on your journey and what did you do to overcome them?

One setback is parenthood. After becoming a parent, it becomes difficult to balance life and work. It is hard to be a parent in science because you cannot always follow the schedule the way you used to and no social time, which sometimes frustrates me. I think I just need to adopt to this transition. For people in the same situation, I would suggest having your family help you out.

What is your current research focus?

My research focuses on understanding the molecular mechanism of a translesion DNA synthesis polymerase.

How would you describe your research?

I’m trying to understand how translesion DNA synthesis works using structural biology and enzymology.

How does your research apply to the broader world and why is it important outside of the scientific community?

The polymerase I am studying helps virus gain antibiotics resistance. Therefore, one future direction of this study is screening inhibitors against the polymerase to develop novel antibiotics.

Why did you choose your current lab and/or UMass Chan?

I am interested in understanding the mechanism of protein complex machinery, and the project in Brian’s lab fits my research interest.

What is the coolest thing about your research?

My project is a challenging one that many people have been trying for a long time. The fact that I am able to characterize a complex no one has ever done before is rewarding.

What is one thing you would like to achieve while doing your research?

Mastering how to do cryo-EM. It is the cutting-edge tool in structural biology and is the best way to capture multiple conformations of a protein complex in a short time.

What are some of the lessons that you have learned along the way that you would like to share with trainees who recently joined our department?

If you are certain about going into academia and if you can, you should have an outline about what you want to do in your PhD, postdoc, and after postdoc so that you can plan yourself to stay in the area you want. That way you can build connections along the way.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Doing same type of work, structural biology and enzymology but in industry settings.

Any advice you wished you had gotten when you first started as a scientist?

Focus on writing from the very beginning. Scientific communication is very important for academia.

What do you like to do when you are not doing research? Favorite Hobbies?

Running and watching movies.